Unsound Adelaide: it’s a body feeling

Mar 13, 2015

Unsound Adelaide 2015 was ushered in with a computerised noise ritual, evoking the sound of an aircraft engine test in a smog-soaked hangar. The audience members were kneeling in reverence facing east or droning-out in full non-upright position.

Australian sound artist Lawrence English hosted this industrial call-to-prayer which disseminated on the night breeze out onto North Terrace, dragging along a cape of violet-hued smoke in pursuit of groups of Freemasons in their exodus from the venue.

Adelaide Festival’s Unsound program is not for everyone. It is perhaps the sound of an industrial abstract expressionist painting. It is a body feeling, not a melodic movement or a synchronised swim (maybe an asynchronous swim in a primordial ooze?), yet there is harmony in the plateaus and peaks of this distorted landscape poem.

UK composer-musician Gazelle Twin (aka Elizabeth Bernholz) swept, without hesitation, into a boisterous and blurry Grime tirade, conjuring the cold claustrophobic aggression of East London’s less-travelled (and seldom Google Street View-listed) byways and the attitude needed to survive them.

Warped fragility lay beneath Bernholz’s multi-effected voice as she toyed with unhinged beats like an industrially disturbed Kate Bush. In places, the hooks and stammering dubstep beats gave way to layered vocal loops that built up into holy walls.

The moveable groove continued with the classic-techno-through-a-meat-grinder sound of US artist Container (Ren Schofield). He churned out a relentless production line of beats while kaleidoscopic bubbles zoomed around the hall, passing by the ears at close range like silver spheres from the ’80s horror movie Phantasm. When the torrent ceased, dancers were seen emerging from the sweaty fray like calves wriggling free of some cosmic afterbirth.

There were three acts in Unsound’s opening night, and the trajectory of upward-climbing tempos seemed set to continue – until Japanese experimental rock band Fushitsusha landed. After lighting ceremonial incense, the members lurched forth with a free-time sandblast of scattered drums and bass guitar, littered with the falling Sakura petals of Keiji Haino’s guitar.

The second piece tore at the fabric of time, the bass and drums striking on any beat except the one you might have expected them to hit. Haino, Fushitsusha’s founder, introduced this piece with the kind of high-strung screaming one might expect from a methamphetamine-dosed Noh theatre troupe. It spiralled into a jerky descent that seemed totally chaotic until the spirit of the piece finally revealed itself.

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This apparent confusion was, in fact, a long, demented but specific riff cycle that for all its disturbed irregularity and anti-synergetic jabs became truly hypnotic. An appropriately Confucian bind of formlessness and form that harks back to the original sound of this legendary band (first formed in 1978) and the lengthy Zen limerick style of their nomenclature.

Fushitsusha played the longest set of the night, thinning out the crowd towards the end. Some were likely over-dazzled by Haino massaging and whipping his guitar with a slinky, others perhaps valued their hearing over this charismatic lunacy.

With artists of this calibre involved one thing is certain, at Unsound you should “unexpect” the expected.

Unsound Adelaide continues at the Freemason’s Hall tonight and tomorrow night (March 13 and 14) with a different line-up of artists. Full program on the Adelaide Festival website.

Click here for more Adelaide Festival reviews.

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